Mass movement: The power of synchrony

Recently I read an article by Oliver Burkeman, published in the Guardian Weekly. ‘Could synchrony bind societies together?’ Burkeman postulates that being part of a movement, ‘losing boundaries’ and dropping the ‘burden of individualism’ makes us ‘perform better, or feel happier, or closer to others’. There is a huge amount of truth in this – especially for us cyclists.

You see, we’re a motley crew, wearing the cloths of our clans whether we realise it or not. I identify myself as a cycle loving, cyclo-cross racing, single-speeding off-road or on-road cyclist. I dress accordingly (Jeans and t-shirt when moseying about and race kit and lycra when flogging myself). But when you strip away all the connotations of the cloth, I’m just a cyclist. A person who rides a bike for a purpose, be it transport or leisure. If you’re reading this, there is every chance that you are too,  unless you strayed upon these pages and haven’t given up yet, for which I thank you immensely. But let’s presume the former and not the latter. As a cyclist you’ll want – I would guess – pretty much the same things that I want from our road system (when we use it and aren’t bouncing down hills, rolling along trails, whizzing around a track etc. etc.), aims that are rather straightforward: I’d like to get around quickly and efficiently, arriving happily and safely at my destination. I would also hazard a guess that an awful lot of the time you arrive in a fashion that debunks at least 2 or 3 of those attributes. So what can we do about it? Well, we can tell those nearest and dearest to us how annoying and dangerous our ride was (inadvertently discouraging cycling and making our loved ones paranoid) or……we can actively do something to improve our lot.

Critical mass 2013, Budapest via Accelerating Transitions.

Now I’m all in favour of making our voices heard and these days we have a plethora of media from which to bang the drum. But therein lies the danger. As individuals, this is rarely effective and all too often can come across as painful negativity from a handful of voices. However, as a group and with the right positive message, we can drop Burkeman’s ‘burden of individualism’, be more efficient in getting a synchronised message out and undoubtedly feel closer to others with whom we share the same issues. After all, every time you hop on your saddle, you share largely the same hopes and fears that come with a transport system that favours armoured vehicles* flying along at speeds that cause serious injury or worse and pays lip service to viable alternatives.

So my message?……Add your voice to the chorus. Add your name to a list. Find out who is working positively for your lot, both in your own area and a national scale (particularly relevant one day away from a general election). Make a huge difference by taking a tiny step; join the movement.

Cardiff Cycle City actively campaigns to make Cardiff the best cycling city in the UK, whilst Sustrans is the pioneer for ‘safe routes in the UK’. Think your city can do better than Cardiff? Join or start a movement there. Go for it……I’ll make it a personal cycling destination……..

*I appreciate ‘armoured vehicles’ might sound a little over the top to some, but I’m not sure how else you can describe a machine covered in a protective shell built to withstand impacts at high speeds.


4 replies »

  1. Important message….and even as we cycle the world, or at home, as individual lone cyclists, we are conscious of sharing a synchrony with the thousands of other cyclists we pass, or connect with, in the course of our journeys.

  2. I think public advocacy through groups and personal lobbying is important, but I think it’s equally vital that we RIDE!! The public needs to see us out there in good numbers to begin to take us seriously. Within that we need to be advocates even with how we ride. I hear too often from “anti” cyclists that cyclists “always”: run the lights and “never” stop and “always” take up the whole road. Those superlative are normally used too.

  3. You’ll get no argument from me Dan. I’m thinking of changing my middle name to ‘Ride’ (or maybe ‘Go Ride’) 🙂

    In terms of the things that we always do……I share your pain and I hear precisely the same statements. Of course some cyclists do those things, just as motorists sometimes speed, park on pavements, block junctions etc. and pedestrians sometimes jaywalk. People are people I guess. But you’re quite right; we should try and set good examples (to coin a phrase ‘be the change you want to be’).

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